Omaha’s Ellen Struve has written a very clever, frequently amusing play Untitled Series #7. And, at Shelterbelt, director Roxanne Wach keeps it unceasingly alive, especially given a standout, dynamic and definitive performance by Mike Palmreuter.
Struve says that she was partly inspired by the style of romantic comedy movies of the 30s. This bubbles with that jolliness which carries over into the 40s, dwelling, as it does, on a divorced man and woman who remain still attached, despite attempts to get on with fresh lives.
Often in such classics the couples are well-off, sophisticated people whose dialogue zips with snappy repartee. Struve doesn’t replicate that pattern. Mariah and Chris are struggling artists who, although maritally severed, cannot afford separate places to live. Their mutual home is also their studio. The dialogue, although articulate, mostly deals with how and where their new directions are heading rather than being composed of biting flights of put-downs. There are also modern elements to their lives such as his visits with a therapist and considerable dependence on the internet.
At the heart of the story is Chris’ budding romance with newly- attached Lisa. Likewise central is a mix-up which makes it appear as if Mariah is dead, in more ways than one. Such departure from the living could boost her career.
Struve wrote good first act exposition, never forcing it. Later she has included a considerable amount about the interesting business of selling art, although not particularly analytically or explanatory. Not that that is required. Struve also has a few good serious lines, such as one about all of us having ghosts in our lives: the shadows of past relationships.
The characters of Chris and Lisa look quite well-developed. That could also be due to Palmreuter and Jennifer Gilg’s portrayals. Both seem very genuine. On the other hand, Mariah doesn’t come across as equally well-defined, underscored by overplaying from Laura Leininger-Campbell. Lisa’s life has been much blended with that of art dealer Levy who shows up a couple of times. Eric Salonis has been given a difficult task; the role of Levy feels like a caricature, a somewhat satire on art dealers. Which Salonis tends to overdo.
As always, Shelterbelt provides excellent program book information about the playwright, a lesson from which some other local companies could learn. In her printed comments Struve quotes art critic Jerry Saltz: “Art is for anyone. It just isn’t for everyone.” This production has something entertaining for everyone.
Untitled Series #7: A Comedy runs through -Feb 14 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. Omaha. Thurs–Sat : 8 p.m. Sun: 6 p.m, Sun 2/14: 2 p.m. Tickets: $12-15. www.shelterbelt.org